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Lunchbreak: Xavier Woods Among's Players to Watch in 2021


A few days into training camp, a handful of players have drawn praise from Mike Zimmer.

The Vikings head coach said the safety, who is in his first season in Purple, has communicated well next to Harrison Smith and showed strong recall from the offseason program.

Woods spent the past four seasons in Dallas and signed a 1-year deal as a free agent with the Vikings this offseason.

Gregg Rosenthal of recently highlighted Woods as a player to watch in Minnesota in 2021, noting that he could be in line for the best season of his career.

Rosenthal wrote:

I struggled to find a quality Making the Leap candidate on some teams. In Minnesota, I loved three: Woods, tight end Irv Smith, Jr., and cornerback Cameron Dantzler. I chose Woods because I've always thought he was underrated and he's entering a perfect situation.

Mike Zimmer has a history of getting safeties like Anthony Harris, Andrew Sendejo and Robert Blanton to play better than anyone thought possible. Perhaps the secret is playing next to Harrison Smith, but leaving the mess in Dallas for this defense should help Woods finally use all his range to the fullest.

Woods was a sixth-round draft pick by Dallas in 2017 and started 48 of 60 games played with the Cowboys.

He tallied 243 tackles, five interceptions, four tackles for loss, five quarterback hits, 18 passes defensed, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery in four seasons.

Woods said he's felt more comfortable in Zimmer's scheme since arriving in late March.

"The scheme is a lot different," Woods said Wednesday. "It's more intense and a lot more calls, but football is football.

"It was a learning curve for me, but I think I've got it down," Woods added. "Every day is a learning process with me trying to get better."

View photos of Vikings players from 2021 U.S. Bank Vikings Training Camp practice at the TCO Performance Center on July 29.

DeArdo: Cook could challenge rushing record in 2021

Dalvin Cook has turned in back-to-back impressive seasons as the Vikings running back has racked up 2,692 rushing yards and 29 rushing touchdowns.

Cook earned Pro Bowl nods for his performances in 2019 and 2020, but could he have something more special in store for 2021?

Bryan DeArdo of CBS Sports recently opined that Cook is among the short list of candidates who could potentially break Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards set in 1984.

DeArdo listed five running backs across the league who could challenge Dickerson's mark in the first year of the 17-game schedule.

Cook was included second on DeArdo's list behind Tennessee's Derrick Henry.

DeArdo wrote:

After injuries limited his effectiveness during his first two seasons, Cook has established himself as one of the league's premier running backs during the past two seasons. Over that span, the former Florida State standout has rushed for 2,692 yards and 29 touchdowns while also catching 97 passes for 880 yards. Cook was briefly in the MVP conversation last season after helping the Vikings bounce back from a 1-5 start. Cook will again be complemented this season by receivers Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen, who in 2020 combined to record 2,325 receiving yards and 21 touchdowns.

Making Cook's success last season even more impressive was that he did it behind an offensive line that was ranked 26th in the league by Pro Football Focus. Minnesota addressed its line by spending a first-round pick on tackle Christian Darrisaw, who will look to fill the void left by veteran Riley Reiff. If Darrisaw and fellow rookie lineman Wyatt Davis can make an early impact, Cook should once again be at or near to the top of the league's rushing standings this season.

Henry and Cook were followed by Cleveland's Nick Chubb, Ezekiel Elliott of the Cowboys and Baltimore's J.K. Dobbins.

There have been eight instances of a player hitting the 2,000-yard rushing mark in a single season. Henry did so in 2020 with 2,027 yards. Cook finished with 1,557 rushing yards in 14 games last season.


U.S. Bank Stadium Practice

Join us for the U.S. Bank Stadium practice on Aug. 7. Fans are encouraged to come early and visit the plaza to enjoy all the activities and excitement of a typical Vikings game day.